Adblock Plus' new target: Facebook 'annoyances'

Ad-blocking plug-in now keeps your Facebook stream cleaner of 'unwanted' material, but how might Facebook fight back?

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Call it "walled-garden manicuring," if you will. Adblock Plus is now capable of blocking that many more of the sorts of annoyances that only Facebook provides to its readers.

Having the ad-blocking plug-in block the likes of sponsored stories, promoted posts, and so on isn't new. What is new is the ability to block things like upcoming events in your area, or "People You May Know" displays.

Twenty-one additional Facebook elements can now be blocked with the new plug-in. Most of them are attempts to glean feedback from the user about other Facebook content ("Games you may like" or "Rate movies you've watched"). Even Adblock Plus' own makers admit, "[These] are not advertisements. Rather, this material is actually from Facebook, and it is served to you based upon the information Facebook receives from your profile and activities."

The privacy implications of this are never gladdening, especially if such material ends up leaking out of Facebook entirely. No surprise then that some people would prefer it was never served up at all. But being able to one-up Facebook's own customization almost certainly won't sit well with Facebook.

Adblock Plus has garnered itself a mixed reputation from content providers and end-users alike. Many end-users understand all too well that the vast majority of sites need ad revenue to survive, but are fed up with obnoxious, experience-killing ads that leak privacy data. But Adblock Plus' attempts to dictate the direction of Web-based advertising via its Acceptable Ads initiative has come off as a heavy-handed attempt to dictate how advertising on the Web should work. (Adblock Plus recently reached out to Twitter to be non-annoying right as that company was filing for its IPO.)

Until now Adblock Plus has focused most of its work on blocking ads on sites where the difference between an ad and the actual content is normally quite clear. But now it seems Adblock Plus is also attempting to change the ways end-users experience sites where content, advertisement, and promotion are heavily -- sometimes inextricably -- mixed.

Facebook could fight back in any number of ways. The most urbane would be to change its service to allow the most annoying content to be removed entirely or maybe after a short period of use. (For example, you have to endure "Games you may like" at least one day a month before you're given the option to toggle it off.) But it's more likely the company'll fight back by finding ways to render Adblock Plus' blocking useless -- a move that could spark an arms race between two of the Web's most contentious and divisive presences.

It all amounts to a striking example of one third-party company providing ways for users to experience another third-party company's content -- perhaps even at the expense of Facebook losing a way to harvest information from its users in an aboveboard fashion.

That's the real worry: What if, when faced with challenges like Adblock Plus to its data-gathering model, Facebook decides to remind folks what's going on Friday night downtown in the middle of a chat session or asks you whether or not you've seen a movie right when you're typing its name in a reply to someone else's post?

This story, "Adblock Plus' new target: Facebook 'annoyances'," was originally published at Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog. For the latest developments in business technology news, follow on Twitter.